With Labor Day now well behind us, it’s fair to say that this was not President Enrique Peña Nieto’s summer of love. There were the much debated tax payments for a Florida apartment, plagiarism accusations, and rising violence levels. And if those matters were not enough, Donald Trump dropped by Los Pinos to wreck his own particular brand of havoc.
The sudden visit to Mexico left a host of unanswered questions in its wake, most prominently: what was President Peña Nieto thinking? Yet one thing is clear, Mexicans did not welcome their unexpected guest and the backlash was swift and unforgiving. The widely panned visit is believed to have snuffed out what little chance President Peña Nieto had of significantly boosting his 23 percent approval rating or winning back Mexicans’ confidence.
I’ll have more on Mexico in a moment, but I first want to recognize a milestone for a firm that has worked tirelessly and effectively for companies looking to understand and navigate Mexico’s economic, political, and regulatory environments.
This month marks twenty-five years that White & Case has provided legal services and strategy from a Mexico City base. When the firm arrived to the country in 1991, it was one of the pioneers in providing cross-border legal services. Think about that for a second; before NAFTA, before Mexico’s electoral democracy, and even before the Zapatistas, White & Case was in Mexico City.
Of course, I am a Counsel in the White & Case office in Mexico City, so this isn’t entirely objective writing. When I left the U.S. Embassy in 2009, I briefly considered heading back to Texas. But, when I met with the White & Case team in Mexico City, it just felt like the right professional fit, one that would allow me to remain in Mexico City. Seven years later, it’s clear why I was immediately drawn to the firm and why I’ve stayed here ever since.
As someone who had worked within Texas and the U.S. federal government, I felt instantly at home with the firm’s Mexico City based leadership. These are top lawyers that have a deep understanding of policy and weave it into all of White & Case legal services and strategies. A handful of them have even worked within Mexico’s government. Executive Partner Iker Arriola is amongst the very best and most recognized attorneys in Mexico, and just this week, Mexico’s top trade negotiator, Francisco de Rosenzweig, joined the firm.
Yet, White & Case’s story is also part of the broader Mexican story. In 1991, White & Case opened its Mexico office with a grand total of four lawyers on staff. As more and more businesses looked to Mexico in the following years, the office grew organically, pulling in talented lawyers from across the country. Today, there are around 100 employees in Mexico City that cover everything from fiscal to environmental law. And they do it all extremely well.
As I’ve pointed out in previous newsletters, White & Case continues to be recognized as a leader in providing legal services in Mexico, Latin America, and around the world. Just this year, the firm has won awards that range from “Cross-Border M&A Law Firm of the Year” to “Global Legal Advisor of the Year” to “International Arbitration Law Firm of the Year.” And this doesn’t even include the individual recognition that our lawyers regularly receive for their exceptional work.
Now—with one last “Congratulations!” to White & Case—it’s back to Mexico and the meeting that has been on everyone’s mind.
Trump’s visit sent shockwaves that reverberated around the country and even through the president’s cabinet. Finance Minister Luis Videgaray (who had allegedly supported Trump’s visit) stepped down, resulting in the appointment of the extremely capable Jose Antonio Meade, who was most recently the Secretary of SEDESOL (Mexico’s Ministry of Social Development) but also formerly the Secretary of Finance, Energy, and Foreign Relations. You can hear more of my thoughts in these interviews on Morning Joe, Squawk Box, and a few other shows that I stopped by in the midst of the media-storm.
Mexico observers are watching how this could play out in terms of political risk. My thoughts are still pretty similar to what they’ve been for the last few months. There is little chance of any backsliding on Mexico’s reforms, as they are locked into place through a myriad of legislation and constitutional reforms. Though, without a strong base of political support, it does seem that the next two years could be increasingly marked by political paralysis. The extent to which this is true will hinge on how much the president is willing to shift strategically toward rule of law and anti-corruption initiatives, and how many more personnel changes it will take for people to believe he’s serious.
In related news, Mexico’s energy reform continues apace despite the global headwinds of stubbornly low oil prices and tight investment budgets. Mexico’s energy regulator announced that twenty-six companies (sixteen of which are operators and ten are financial partners) had qualified to participate in the December deep water tender. The impressive showing included the who’s who of the energy giants, including Chevron, BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Eni Mexico, and Pemex.
Through November, many of us will be watching the home stretch of the presidential election, including the first debate on September 26. Personally, I follow a lot of the campaign season news at Real Clear Politics, and I would recommend their articles to anyone looking for insightful coverage.
It’s going to be an exciting next couple of months, and, as always, I hope you’ll connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. And to my colleagues in Mexico City, congratulations and here’s to another twenty-five years!
Editor’s Note: The above guest column first appeared on Tony Garza’s website. Click here to read the original post. The main image accompanying this guest column features Tony Garza.